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Political uncertainty unnerves consumers

THE impending general election and the recent Budget have caused British consumers to lose confidence in both the current economic situation and their expectations for the coming year, the Nationwide consumer confidence survey will show today.

According to the monthly report, the overall index fell by nine points to 72 last month from 81 in February. This has reversed all the gains in consumer confidence seen since the start of the year and is the largest monthly fall the index has experienced since July 2008.

The present situation index fell to 24 from 28 while the expectations index slipped to 105 from 116.

Nationwide’s chief economist, Martin Gahbauer, said: “With an election looming, more people will be unsure as to whether they will be better or worse off in the coming months, and recent concerns about the state of the economy and employment prospects could still be playing on the minds of consumers.”

The March figures also showed consumers’ growing concern about the employment situation. Despite a period of improving jobless numbers, heightened industrial unrest and union activity will have done little to allay fears around the employment situation, said Gahbauer.

But while consumers’ confidence in the economic situation remains weak, spending confidence has started to rebound. Following three successive months of falls, the spending index picked up to 96 from 94 last month. Nationwide said that confidence in this area remains relatively high compared to the last two years and echo other industry measures.

In terms of house prices, expectations slipped but just managed to remain in positive territory. Consumers now expect the value of their home to increase by 0.9 per cent over the next six months, compared to 1.5 per cent in February, perhaps as a consequence of February’s monthly drop reining in expectations.